Republican lawmakers are taking aim at U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice and the talking points she used to explain the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, that left Ambassador Christopher Stephens and three other embassy staffers dead.
Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-California), who has defended Rice against accusations by congressional Republicans that she sought to mislead the American public with her portrayal of the attacks, has called for an investigation into the Benghazi talking points. The committee will look at the discrepancies between what the intelligence community knew and what President Obama, Rice and other top administration officials were instructed to say.
Feinstein said on NBC's Meet the Press this week that Rice, who had been standing in for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, was not authorized to reveal classified information at that time. It also is unclear who provided the final version of the talking points.
"She was within the context of that statement," Feinstein said. "And for this, she has been pilloried for two months. I don't understand it. It has to stop."
Rice appeared on five Sunday news programs on Sept. 16 during which she placed the blame for the incident on a spontaneous protest against an anti-Islam video going around the Internet in the Middle East rather than the pre-meditated terrorist attack that it actually turned out to be. Her portrayal was based on information she'd received from the White House, which the administration said was based on the best information it had at the time.
Former CIA director David Petraeus said in hearings on Capitol Hill last week that U.S. intelligence officials knew immediately that terrorists had carried out the attack. According to CBS News, the CIA's talking points made no mention of possible terrorism. They also included a statement that the assessment of what had happened could "change as additional information is collected and analyzed and as currently available information continues to be evaluated" in the ongoing investigation and a pledge to "bring to justice those responsible for the deaths of U.S. citizens."
Republicans have offered their own theories about Rice's explanation. Arizona Sen. John McCain has suggested that Rice is incompetent. South Carolina Sen. Lindsay Graham, in an appearance on Meet the Press, accused her of politicizing the attack.
"The story she told helped reinforce the political narrative helpful to the president," Graham said. "I don't know what she knew, but I know the story she told was misleading."
The attacks on Rice have angered Obama. During his first post-election news conference, he angrily said that McCain and Graham should go after him, not Rice, who is widely believed to be his choice to replace Clinton when she steps down. He also called their attempts to "besmirch" Rice's reputation "outrageous." The president said that if he determines that Rice is the best person to replace Clinton he would without hesitation nominate her.
But opposition from McCain and Graham may not be the only obstacles to her nomination. While Rice, by most accounts, has excelled as U.N. ambassador, she also has a reputation for sometimes being too outspoken, raising questions about whether she has the diplomatic finesse to become the nation's top diplomat.
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